Upper Body Pyramid Workout - An Intense Upper Body Workout

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Upper Body Pyramid Workout

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Getty Images/John Lund/Marc Romanelli

This upper workout following workout offers an intense upper body challenge by using the pyramid method of training:  Increasing your weight and reducing your reps for each set of your exercises.  With this type of training, you start with 12 reps, choosing a weight that you can ONLY lift 12 times (the last rep should be very difficult, but not impossible). 

For each set, you'll increase your weight and reduce your reps, ending with the heaviest weight you can lift for 8 reps.  It may take time to determine the right weight for each set, so keep a journal to track your weights each week.  Advanced exercisers may want to increase intensity by doing the optional sets described below.  I've included sample weights for each set, but these are only to give you an idea of how to change your weights, so modify according to your fitness level.

Precautions


See your doctor before trying this workout if you have any injuries, illnesses or other conditions.

Equipment Needed

An exercise ball, a bench or step, a barbell with various weighted plates and various weighted dumbbells.  If you don't have a barbell, feel free to use dumbbells.

How To

  • Warm up with light cardio or warm up sets of the exercises
  • For each exercise, choose a light, medium and heavy weight and perform each set in the following format:
    Set 1 - 12 reps, light weight
    Set 2 - 10 reps, medium weight
    Set 3 - 8 reps, heavy weight
  • If you're advanced or want more intensity, you can do triangle pyramids, which involve both ascending and descending pyramids:
    Set 1 - 12 reps, light weight
    Set 2 - 10 reps, medium weight
    Set 3 - 8 reps, heavy weight
    Set 4 - 10 reps, medium weight
    Set 5 - 12 reps, light weight
  • For each set, choose enough weight that you can ONLY complete the assigned number of reps
  • Rest for 30-60 seconds between sets and exercises

Let's get started with your first exercise: Chest Presses

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Chest Press

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Paige Waehner

Chest Presses:

Lie down on a bench or step and begin with the weights in each hand straight up over the chest, palms facing out.  Bend the elbows and lower the arms down until the elbows are just below the chest (arms should look like goal posts). Press the weights back up without locking the elbows and bring them together over the chest.

Reps/Sets/Duration

Set 1 - 12 reps, light weight
Set 2 - 10 reps, medium weight
Set 3 - 8 reps, heavy weight12-16 reps

Next Exercise:  Chest Flies

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Chest Flies

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Paige Waehner

Chest Flies

Lie on the floor, bench or step. Hold weights over the chest with the palms facing each other.  Keeping the elbows slightly bent, lower the arms out to the sides and down until they're level with the chest.  Keep the elbows in a fixed position and avoid lowering the weights too low.  Squeeze chest to bring the arms back up as though you're hugging a tree.

Reps/Sets/Duration

Set 1 - 12 reps, light weight
Set 2 - 10 reps, medium weight
Set 3 - 8 reps, heavy weight12-16 reps

Next Exercise: One Arm Row

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One Arm Row

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Paige Waehner

One Arm Row

Place the left foot on a step or platform and rest the left hand or forearm on the upper thigh.  Hold a weight in the right hand, tip forward keeping the back flat and the abs in, and hang the weight down towards the floor.  Bend the elbow and pull it up in a rowing motion until it is level with the torso or just above it. At the top of the movement, squeeze the back while keeping the hips square and the abs engaged.

Reps/Sets/Duration

Set 1 - 12 reps, light weight
Set 2 - 10 reps, medium weight
Set 3 - 8 reps, heavy weight12-16 reps

Next Exercise:  Pullovers

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Pullovers

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Paige Waehner

Dumbbell Pullovers: 

In a bridge position on the ball, hold one heavy weight in both hands overhead.  Keeping the elbows slightly bent, gently lower the weight behind you (arms are mostly straight), going as low as you can.  Squeeze the back to pull the weight over the chest and repeat.

Reps/Sets/Duration

Set 1 - 12 reps, light weight
Set 2 - 10 reps, medium weight
Set 3 - 8 reps, heavy weight12-16 reps

Next Exercise:  Bent Arm Lateral Raise

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Bent Arm Lateral Raise

Bent Arm Lateral Raise
Paige Waehner

Lateral Raise: 

Stand with feet about hip-distance apart holding weights with the elbows bent to 90 degrees, palms facing in.  Rotate the shoulders to lift the arms straight up to the sides, keeping the elbows in a fixed position throughout the movement.  Lower and repeat.

Reps/Sets/Duration:

Set 1 - 12 reps, light weight
Set 2 - 10 reps, medium weight
Set 3 - 8 reps, heavy weight

Next Exercise: Alternating Overhead Press

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Alternating Overhead Press

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Paige Waehner

Alternating Overhead Press: 

Begin standing or sitting with elbows bent and weights next to the ears.  Press the right arm up overhead while keeping the left arm in place. Engage the abs to keep the rest of the body stable.  Lower the right arm and, keeping it in place, press the left arm up overhead.  Continue alternating and avoid resting the weight on the shoulder.

Reps/Sets/Duration

Set 1 - 12 reps, light weight
Set 2 - 10 reps, medium weight
Set 3 - 8 reps, heavy weight

Next Exercise: Biceps Curls

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Hammer Curls

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Paige Waehner

Hammer Curls: 

Stand with feet about hip-distance apart and bend the elbows, bringing the weights up into a curl.  The palms should face in.  Lower, keeping a slight bend in the elbow at the bottom and repeat.

Reps/Sets/Duration

Set 1 - 12 reps, light weight
Set 2 - 10 reps, medium weight
Set 3 - 8 reps, heavy weight

Next Exercise:  Close Grip Bench Press

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Close Grip Bench Press

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Paige Waehner

Close Grip Bench Press: 

Lie on a bench or ball (more advanced) and hold a barbell or dumbbells in a narrow grip, hands about shoulder-width apart.  The palms should be facing out.  Begin the movement by bending the elbows and lowering the bar towards the ribcage, elbows pulled in and close to the body.  Concentrate on squeezing the triceps to push the weight back up.  Avoid locking the elbows at the top of the movement.

Reps/Sets/Duration

Set 1 - 12 reps, light weight
Set 2 - 10 reps, medium weight
Set 3 - 8 reps, heavy weight

Next Exercise:  Triceps Extensions

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Triceps Extensions

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Paige Waehner

Triceps Extensions: 

Lie on the floor or a bench/ball and extend the arms straight up over the chest, palms face in. Bend the elbows and lower the hands until they're next to the ears, elbows at about 90-degree angles.  Squeeze the triceps to straighten the arms without locking the joints.  Keep the elbows steady throughout the movement, only moving the forearms.

Reps/Sets/Duration

Set 1 - 12 reps, light weight
Set 2 - 10 reps, medium weight
Set 3 - 8 reps, heavy weight

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